What is hydraulic fracturing?
Hydraulic fracturing is a stimulation technique used to facilitate the production of gas from underground rock formations.
Injecting fluid at high pressure into targeted sections of the layers of gas-bearing rocks creates localised networks of hairline fractures, generally more than 2km below the surface, that unlock gas and allow it to flow into the well and up to the surface.
What is in the fluid?
The fluid is a mix of approximately 99.5% water and sand (referred to as the proppant) and 0.5% chemical additives.
Different companies may use different formulations for the injection fluid, and may tailor the formulation to each location. Any fluids to be used must be subject to a detailed risk assessment process, disclosed publicly and approved by the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in an Environment Management Plan.
Hydraulic fracturing must happen before gas can be extracted from the shale gas reservoir.
Is hydraulic fracturing safe?
The Territory Government is committed to implementing all 135 recommendations from the Independent Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing.
The Inquiry determined that provided all recommendations in the Final Report are adopted and implemented, the environmental, social, health, cultural and economic risks associated with hydraulic fracturing of shale reservoirs could be reduced to an acceptable level.
On 17 April 2018, the government accepted all recommendations and lifted the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing of unconventional gas in the NT.
What is the Government doing to protect us from the impacts of hydraulic fracturing?
The Northern Territory Government is committed to ensuring the onshore gas industry develops in a responsible, transparent and way by faithfully implementing all the recommendations of the Inquiry. A detailed Implementation Plan has been published which aims to:
- strengthen regulations
- ensure industry is accountable for its practices
- safeguard water and the environment
- respect community and culture
- maximise the benefits and opportunities available to local businesses and communities
- ensure planning for future development.
How much will it cost to implement the 135 recommendations?
The Government has approved $5.33 million over three years to implement all the recommendations.
This will help protect the environment and deliver jobs – particularly in remote and regional parts of the Territory.
And in line with the report’s recommendations, the government will ensure industry pays its fair share through an appropriate cost recovery model.
Where will hydraulic fracturing occur?
Indications are that shale gas reservoirs in the Beetaloo Sub-basin (approximately 600km south of Darwin) are of global significance. As such, this area will be the most likely area for hydraulic fracturing to occur in the short term.
Australian companies, Origin Energy and Santos have had Environment Management Plans (EMPs) approved by the Northern Territory Government to install groundwater monitoring bores in the Beetaloo Sub-basin to secure six months of baseline monitoring prior to undertaking any hydraulic fracturing.
Further exploration will confirm the scale of our shale gas reserves.
What is an Environment Management Plan, who prepares them and what are they used for?
An Environment Management Plan (EMP) is a regulatory approval document under the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations 2016 required to commence petroleum activities.
Once an EMP is approved, it must be complied with, and government will proactively ensure compliance is achieved.
An EMP is prepared by proponents for each regulated activity and is developed with reference to the Code of Practice for Onshore Petroleum Activities and relevant Guidelines.
EMPs are used to provide details of the potential environmental risks associated with the proposed activity, how these risks will be reduced to appropriate levels and how environmental protection commitments will be achieved.
The EMP assessment process involves:
- The EMP assessment is coordinated by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the EMP is assessed by government staff with the relevant skills and experience
- The EMP is provided to the NT EPA for independent review
- The NT EPA provides independent advice and recommendations about the whether the EMP should be approved and any required conditions of approval to the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources
- The Minister for Environment and Natural Resources makes the approval decision and publishes the final document along with a statement of reasons for the decision.
What is the approval process for an EMP and do they become publicly available once approved?
The preparation and approval of an Environment Management Plan (EMP) is required before petroleum regulated activities can start.
EMPs must demonstrate how environmental risks are controlled and reduced to a level that is as low as reasonably practicable and acceptable. This will be judged in consideration of the principles of ecologically sustainable development.
Any EMPs involving drilling of petroleum wells or hydraulic fracturing must be advertised for public comment during the assessment process. In making the final approval decision, the Minister must give details regarding how the public comments were considered in the decision.
The regulations also mandate that stakeholders impacted by the activity are properly consulted and engaged prior to lodgement of the EMP for approval.
The full contents of an EMP, with the exception of commercial in confidence information as defined by the Information Act 2002, will be made public on the NTG website https://denr.nt.gov.au/environment-information/onshore-gas-in-the-northern-territory/environment-management-plan
Who will assess an EMP?
The EMP assessment process is coordinated by DENR. EMP's are assessed by Northern Territory Government officers with the relevant skills and experience with reference to the Code of Practice for Onshore Petroleum Activities and relevant Guidelines.
The EMP is presented to the NT EPA for independent review and advice.
The final decision about whether to approve an EMP is made by the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.
How long does it take for an EMP to be assessed?
Once a draft EMP is submitted and accepted for assessment, there is a statutory timeframe of 90 days for a decision to be made.
This includes a 28 day public consultation period for EMPs where well drilling and/or hydraulic fracturing is proposed.
The public comments will be considered in the assessment phase. However, should additional time be required to make a full assessment, the Minister has the power to extend the 90 day timeframe.
Who gets to give the final approval on an EMP?
The responsibility for environmental management of petroleum activities, including approval of and compliance with EMPs under the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations 2016 has been transferred from the Minister for Primary Industry and Resources to the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.
Why does the Environment Minister now have approval?
The transfer of responsibility means the agency in charge of promoting the industry is no longer the same agency in charge of regulating the industry.
The Minister for Environment and Natural Resources will obtain advice from the independent NT EPA before giving final approval on an EMP to ensure appropriate consideration has been given.
Can the public appeal an EMP approval?
Open standing has been created for any person to seek a judicial review by the Supreme Court as to whether a decision to approve an EMP was made lawfully.
Why are you granting EMPs when you haven’t finished your baseline monitoring surveys?
Baseline monitoring of groundwater at proposed well pads in the Beetaloo Sub-basin is already underway, in line with the Inquiry’s recommendations.
The NTG has commissioned six months worth of baseline methane monitoring in the Beetaloo Sub-basin to ensure background levels are understood.
DENR has also employed an Onshore Gas Weeds Officer who has been overseeing baseline weed surveys and ongoing weed management commitments.
Companies are also required to undertake a range of environmental baseline surveys in their tenements in order to prepare their EMPs.
The inquiry recommended that a Strategic Regional and Environmental Baseline Assessment (SREBA) be undertaken before approvals for petroleum production are granted.
The NT Government has released its SREBA Framework and guidance notes. This Framework seeks to articulate this into more detailed technical guidance on how baseline studies should be undertaken within six domains:
- Water Quality and Quantity
- Aquatic Ecosystems
- Terrestrial Ecosystems
- Methane and Greenhouse Gas
- Environmental Health
- Social, Cultural and Economic
The first SREBA studies will be undertaken in the Beetaloo Sub-Basin, scopes of works are being developed to undertake the studies and will be approved by the Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources.